What does “worthwhile” mean, anyway?

In the comments on my post about Virtua Fighter 5, Richie takes me to task:

Virtua Fighter 5 isn’t FOR the average adult, and apparently it isn’t for you either. It’s fine that you give up on games that require time to get into them, but you don’t need to strut while you do it. I like nuanced fighting games. I’m also an avid Magic: The Gathering player (!). Apparently, spending time with these things makes me “nerdy”. Fine. I’m enjoying myself just fine, thank you.

A few follow-up thoughts: As the quote from IGN’s review shows, some people do think Virtua Fighter should be for the average adult, and they’re upset that people like me keep saying it’s too hard. Other reviews treat VF as for more of a hardcore crowd, like this one from GameSpot: “Virtua Fighter 5 is a great fighting game that’s specifically geared toward players who have experience with the series. … But if you’re a fan of other fighting games and aren’t already familiar with Virtua Fighter, it’s likely that you’re just going to keep on wondering what all the fuss is about.” In any case, I’ve been reading for years about how great VF and Tekken are, and every time I play I have the same reaction.

The problem for me isn’t that it takes a long time to get into VF. It takes a long time to get into a game like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. You know playing an RPG or even a game like Resident Evil 4 is going to eat up many hours. But for games like VF, it’s not just a matter of time: it’s the memorization required get good at it. In Elder Scrolls you might have to keep track of story threads from 10 hours before, or keep track of all the items you have. But you don’t have to memorize the stats of every single character and the pages of books that you come across. What bugs me about VF is how much brain space/time is required.

As it happens, I think Magic: the Gathering is a great game. (Also an important one: while the U.S. has largely ignored the European-centric board game renaissance of the past decade [see: Settlers of Catan], a whole generation of kids has grown up playing the incredibly sophisticated, intricate Magic [and its less nuanced collectible card brethren]. Even if they don’t view it as a game like Risk or Life, they know on some level that there’s more out there than Parker Brothers.) And I’d probably still be playing Magic if it didn’t cost so much to really get into it. But then again, I might not — simply because of the sheer number of cards. I go to Borders occasionally to read magazines, and I’ll always flip through Scrye or Inquest to see what’s new and check the prices of some older cards I still have. It’s mind-boggling how many sets there are at this point. I could never get back into it even if I wanted to, because I’d have so much catch-up memorizing to do.

To the average person, I think this is what a game like Virtua Fighter 5 seems like. I was using “nerdy” pejoratively to an extent, but like I said: I’m a big dork. My idea of a fun Friday night is staying home and playing Catan or Ticket to Ride. But everybody’s a huge dork! If there’s one thing the internet (with Chris Anderson’s help) has taught us, it’s that we all have obscure or niche interests that we spend inordinate amounts of time on. And we may like our own niche interests, but when we look at someone else’s it can seem odd that they put so much time into kite-flying, paintballing, transcribing TV episodes, Civil War re-enactment, fan fiction, whatever.

This becomes a problem when the niche interest you’re talking about is an ostensibly flagship fighting video game that also happens to be one of Sony’s few remaining PlayStation 3 exclusives (and only for a few months, at that). It’s a turnoff. There should certainly be games that target a hardcore crowd, and there should be fighting games that target a hardcore crowd. But I agree with commenter Dave: “the fighting genre has clearly cast its lot with the hardcore fighting game fans. Doing so will only continue to shrink the market for the genre though, which is a shame since the market was so much larger in the SFII/MK days.”

It is a shame. I was at a high school journalism workshop today at Poynter, and in a small session we got to talking about video games. One of the students had already mentioned games a couple times, so I asked her if she was a gamer. She said, “I like video games, but I’m no good at them.” I told them about this VF thing, and asked if they had ever played old-school Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. She said: “Oh yeah, I owned Street Fighter!” Gamers like her are never going to get into Virtua Fighter. That would be fine if it were a niche title. But it’s not (or it’s not supposed to be).

I hope she gets a Wii and plays Super Smash Bros. Brawl when it comes out. But there must be tons of potential gamers (male and female, of all ages) like her who feel left out of what they see as a hardcore video game world. And games like Virtua Fighter 5 are a big reason for that.

— February 24, 2007

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s